Orkney council blocks ceremony
Hell’s Angel lined up to take service
By David Lister
From The Times - January 06, 2007
It was never likely to match the glamour of Sir Elton John and David Furnish, but the gay wedding of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, and his long-term partner was expected to be every bit as sensational.
In probably the most bizarre event planned for the remote Orkney island of Sanday, Sir Peter, 72, and Colin Parkinson, 52, a builder, were to arrive before guests on a miniature railway overlooked by a herd of cattle, before being “married” in a tearoom by a member of the Hell’s Angels.
To the accompaniment of music composed by Sir Peter called The Sanday Light Railway, they were to exchange vows in front of leading musicians, including the clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, the Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell, and a smattering of friends from the pop world.
But yesterday Sir Peter said that he was taking legal advice after Orkney Islands Council refused to allow Sanday’s registrar to carry out the ceremony.
Accusing the council of “downright discrimination”, he said: “Everybody can get married where they live except me, it seems. Ever since the law on civil partnerships was brought in, we thought that finally there was an opportunity to get married and to have a little celebration. There are all sorts of people we were wanting to invite from the music world and it would have needed a lot of telephone calls. Well, if we can’t have it here in the place we live then we don’t want to do it at all in Orkney; we’ll probably go to London.”
Sir Peter, who was born in Salford but moved to Orkney 37 years ago, asked Sanday’s resident registrar, Charlie Ridley, last year if he would be prepared to officiate at a ceremony this spring.
Mr Ridley, a member of the Aire Valley chapter of the Hell’s Angels, based in Leeds, was told by the council that it had no objection to him conducting the ceremony, only to be informed before Christmas that it had suddenly changed its mind.
Instead, it said that the couple would have to travel to Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland because registrars on outlying islands did not have the power to carry out same-sex partnership ceremonies.
Mr Ridley, 48, who is the owner of the Sanday Light Railway, which bills itself as Britain’s most northerly passenger-carrying railway, said: “It is the law that everybody should be allowed to have a ceremony whether it is a same-sex partnership or one between a man and a woman.”
He said that he was leaving the island in protest. “We are leaving in disgust. It’s such a great shame because Sanday is such a beautiful place,” he said.
However, the council raised the prospect last night that a compromise solution may yet be reached. A spokesman said: “In common with all the other home-based registrars in the Orkney Island Council registration district, the Sanday registrar is not authorised to carry out civil partnership ceremonies. The council will be discussing this situation with all those concerned to find an acceptable solution within council procedure.”
Sir Peter, who refused to divulge details of figures from the pop world he would invite to the ceremony, had hoped to invite about 50 guests to attend inside the Brief Encounter tearoom. Along with the Sanday’s 521 inhabitants, they were then planning to continue their celebrations in the island’s two pubs.
He and Mr Parkinson, who is also from Lancashire, have lived openly together on Sanday for years. They had hoped to turn up at the ceremony pulled by a burgundy-coloured miniature steam train called Molly, one of four locomtives on the seven-and-a-quarter-inch light railway that circles Mr Ridley’s two-acre croft.
Sir Peter said: “We wanted to arrive by train at the tea room, it would be a lovely theatrical gesture.”
However, even if the council relents and allows the ceremony to go ahead in Sanday, he may not get his wish of arriving by train. Mr Ridley has begun to dismantle the railway, which took him seven years to build, after the council told him that he did not have the necessary licence.
He remained defiant last night. “After spending over £50,000 setting this up I have closed the railway and I’m leaving,” he said. “But not before I marry Peter and Colin here.”
16,000 gay weddings since Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005
4,000 ceremonies in the first six weeks of the new legislation
25% of all ceremonies have been in London.
75% have been between men
£1m celebrations for Sir Elton John and David Furnish, his Canadian boyfriend. Guests included Elizabeth Hurley and Rod Stewart
19 & 18 the ages of Sonya Gould and Vanessa Haydock, the first gay soldiers to marry
'Homophobic' Orkney under attack for ban on civil partnership
By Andrew Johnson
From The Independent - 08 January 2007
Gay rights campaigners have called for a tourist boycott of Orkney after one of the world's leading composers was banned from forming a civil partnership with his lover on the remote island of Sanday.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who is master of the Queen's Music, and Colin Parkinson, 52, planned to hold their ceremony next month on Sanday, where they have lived for the past nine years.
Sir Peter, 72, had even composed a piece of music for the event, which was to be attended by stars from the classical and pop music worlds.
But their plans were put on hold after officials at Orkney Islands Council unexpectedly said the registrar, a friend of the couple, was not authorised to preside over the civil partnership. Instead, they would have to travel to Kirkwall on Orkney mainland for the ceremony.
Matters became further confused yesterday when it was reported that Orkney officials had also cited fears of a media circus and "unsuitable music" on Sanday as reasons to move the ceremony.
A furious Sir Peter condemned the ban as "downright discrimination" and pointed the finger at "religious fundamentalists".
He said: "Everybody can get married where they live except me, it seems. Ever since the law on civil partnerships was brought in, we thought that finally there was an opportunity to get married and to have a little celebration.
"Fundamental religious people, who delve into the Bible to justify their hatreds, still hold great sway. That kind of malignant influence is wrong. Most of the people here are fine and open, those who disapprove are in a minority."
Gay rights campaigners have now waded into the bitter dispute. Peter Tatchell said the publicity was damaging the image of the Orkney islands as a whole and warned that a tourist boycott could be the next stage in the row.
"This smacks of homophobia," he said. "There would be strong grounds for legal action. They seem to be attempting to undo the democratic decision of Parliament. Orkney council runs the risk of alienating potential tourists. If this ban remains I suspect there will be calls for a tourist boycott from the gay community. Even many heterosexual people feel revolted by discrimination. It is very damaging to Orkney's image and is a major PR blunder."
Michael Cashman, the former EastEnders actor and founder of Stonewall, who is now a Labour MEP, has called on Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to intervene. "It seems to me it's good, old-fashioned homophobia," he said. "In the past, the Government has said that such attitudes are unacceptable and probably not in line with the law. The relevant minister should move quickly to instruct the local authority to carry out the civil partnership."
Calum Irving, the director of gay rights campaign group Stonewall Scotland, said he would be taking up the matter with Orkney council.
"Civil partnerships are law now," he said. "It's hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something homophobic about this. Orkney should operate in the spirit and letter of the law and find a registrar who is able to undertake this service on Sanday."
The row comes as the Government prepares to introduce legislation in April banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation for "goods and services" including health care and education.